Warren King, the Wolf Moon and the Unbearable Silence that Follows...
by Maureen Elizabeth

Posted on 2/27/2010 by Maureen Elizabeth


On January 27, 2010, the Wolf Moon rose, the biggest and brightest moon of the year to come, and quietly, yet brilliantly, punctuated the end of the day Warren King set down his guitar and walked on. My personal knowledge of Warren is limited, so I talked with two musicians who have known him for decades, Bryan Bassett (Foghat) and Gil Snyder (Mystic Knights).

Bryan recalled the first time he saw Warren play. It was during the late 1960's, in a parking lot, outside of a business in Monroeville, PA. Bryan saw "this guy with long blond hair, suede fringed jacket and a red Gibson 335 guitar who looked a bit like Duane Allman." "He was the first good guitar player I ever saw" and, he said, became his first inspiration, "he really turned my head and made me think of being a musician myself." Looking back, Bryan noted that he has known Warren "pretty much my entire professional life" and although their paths crossed continuously over the years, they rarely actually played in a band together except for the occasional jam on stage in Pittsburgh. "Either he played or I played, but hardly ever in the same band at the same time -even though we played in the same bands. In Florida, at King Snake Studios, we worked together, and, in fact, with Byrd Foster and Warren there I felt like we had our own little 'Pittsburgh Club' in the studio. When I was on the road with Foghat, Warren would work on projects and when Warren was back in PA, I would fill the same chair in the studio." Quite a few of the recordings had both of them engineering and playing. "Warren was one of the most well known and respected guitar players around and anyone who knew music, knew Warren, Bryan said, "he was someone who had that spark, that presence, that you would go out of your way to see. He had that star quality. On stage he was not very gregarious, but his playing was captivating to watch - he was very focused- he'd play with his eyes closed. His expression, energy, style and phrasing were very powerful to watch."

Interestingly, Warren and Bryan did share the stage briefly back in the 1980's when Dominic DiSilvio, legendary owner of The Decade in Pittsburgh, approached Warren to form an "all-star" band to pump up an otherwise slow Monday night. Warren once recalled in those days, he would recruit " whoever I could get up before it got dark." So, for a time, this all-star jam band was composed of Warren, Byrd Foster, Bryan and keyboardist Gil Snyder. Eventually, the lineup changed and the band became "Warren King and the Mystic Knights of the Sea."

Gil recalls meeting Warren "back in the college days when I was in Brick Alley and Warren was in Diamond Rio." Brick Alley opened for Diamond Rio at a local theater, a gig that was not very well attended. "I remember feeling very disappointed that not many people showed up and then Diamond Rio went on stage and played as if they were playing for a thousand people - they powered through the set and from this I learned to perform to your highest level under any circumstance." Gil, also a young filmmaker at the time, had a Grammy nominated animated short called "Ooze." In 1977 or '78, Gil followed up with a second animated short "Space Infection." "Warren and I made the soundtrack, and believe it or not, we named ourselves the U2 band - long before we ever heard of U2!" Then came a period of time in which both Warren and Gil had recording contracts, Warren with the Silencers and Gil with the Iron City Houserockers. "We did a few jobs together, but he was going his way and I was going mine." Towards the end of the Houserockers era, the band was looking to find a replacement guitarist and Warren stepped in for about six months. "At this time we weren't afraid to walk around in a rather flamboyant fashion. After a gig at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, we didn't bother to change our clothes - we were staying at Swingo's - so instead of changing backstage (we had just opened for Ian Hunter) Warren, Mick Ronson and me decided to take a cab to the hotel and change there. Warren's hair was dyed orange and I had a bright red suit on with spiked hair (this WAS the 80's). So we arrive at the hotel and get into the elevator with another man and his pleasantly plump escort. The doors close, the elevator takes off and this couple just STARED at us. Suddenly, the elevator stopped and we were stuck. So there's the three of us, in our strange get-ups, and two very, very normal looking people. The woman started going berserk realizing that she was stuck in this small cubicle with these three human oddities. The woman was really being intolerable and Mick and I were just willing to stick it out, but Warren wouldn't. He started looking for a trap door. In those days there were no cell phones and this elevator had no emergency phone. So Warren, Samson that he was, tried to pry open the elevator doors and sure enough, he did it. To our dismay we discovered we were stuck between two floors. The opening to the next floor was about two foot high. The woman continued to scream and cry. Warren looked at us, and at her, and jumped out. Then the English fellow [Mick] said "I've had enough" and followed Warren. To get to the lower floor you had to swing out and if you didn't do it correctly there was a chance of falling down the shaft. By this time we were drawing a crowd and the woman in the elevator was still screaming. I'm trying to decide what to do when a cop shows up and shouts at me "stay there!" I looked at this woman and headed for the opening. The cop grabbed me as I made my escape and said "What's the matter with you Santy Claus?" I gave him a smart remark back and almost got arrested. By this time it was determined that the elevator wasn't going anywhere so Warren and I got to watch as this lady slides out of the elevator, feet first, as her dress goes all the way up to her neck. Warren and I often chuckled over "what color were her underpants?" Actually, we talked about this story not too long ago."

A few years ago Warren came back to PA and wanted to get back together with the Knights - the Mystic Knights "Kingfish" logo still tattooed on his arm from the early days- and so he came back to his roots and the band went into the studio to record. After becoming aware of Warren's declining health "we had hoped to do a benefit for him, to help him out. I talked to him about this and he asked that we wait until spring. Unfortunately, we didn't get that spring with him. We have a lot of great Warren King material in the can, my plan is to finish the product, he was anxious to do so, and release it in his memory. We are all going to miss him."

Brian ran into Warren about 6 or 8 months ago and had a chance to sit, talk, catch up - Warren talked about his plans, his hopes..."I never really expected it to happen that fast, he was a great guy, wonderful guitarist and fun to hang out with."

Warren played up until a short time before he died. As Bryan said, "playing is a personal comfort; hopefully playing made him feel better even for that short period of time. Warren was an ever present person in my life and now another good soul is gone. Please tell all my friends in Pittsburgh that I wished I could have been with them at the memorial and even though I wasn't there in person, I was there in spirit, in my heart." Bryan and friends also had a memorial jam for Warren in Florida.

For this writer, I'll always remember the time Gil and Warren crashed at my house after playing a local gig. The next morning Warren insisted on making the "best scrambled eggs you've ever eaten." And so, there was Warren, bopping around my kitchen, humming a tune, beret tilted to the sly, cooking up a storm. He was such a kind and gentle soul...

With the guitar laid down one last time, the stage lights dimmed, the studio chair waiting to be filled and the Wolf Moon sitting silently in the sky, we said farewell to an amazing musician who will be deeply missed. And as Bryan said, concluding our interview, when thinking of Warren, "just remember the music..."

Rest in Peace Warren King

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